Archive for the ‘Will’s Blog’ Category

Poachers can be victims of wildlife trafficking too

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

The recent news that a man suspected of being a poacher died in a South African nature reserve after being mauled by a pride of lions, reflects the horrific consequences of wildlife poaching and trafficking for both wild animals and people across Africa and the wider world.

While Born Free is primarily concerned with the impact of poaching and trafficking on individual wild animals and the populations and wider ecosystems to which they belong, we have to recognise that poachers, who all too often come from impoverished communities, are frequently victims of this heinous trade, alongside the animals they target.

The grizzly incident in question reportedly took place in the Ingwelala Nature Reserve, which borders the Kruger National Park in South Africa. Kruger has been a hot-bed for poaching, particularly of rhinos, over the past decade. Last year more than 500 rhinos were killed by poachers in Kruger for their horns, which are worth tens of thousands of dollars per kilo in illegal Asian markets where rhino horn is used as a medicine, a recreational drug, a prestige gift, and increasingly as an investment.

Of course we don’t know for sure who the unfortunate individual was, or exactly what he was doing in the nature reserve, where his body was found with a loaded hunting rifle nearby. However, poor villagers, often from across the border in neighbouring Mozambique, have been recruited in large numbers by wildlife trafficking gangs in recent years to cross into Kruger targeting rhinos, elephants and other wild animals, with the promise of being paid many times their monthly income. Clearly these people are exploited by those who stand to make a financial killing without ever putting themselves at risk from wild animals or from the increasingly effective anti-poaching forces charged with defeating the poaching epidemic.

Most of the frontline poachers are mere pawns of the organised criminal networks that control wildlife trafficking, and expendable ones at that. When one dies, they are all too easily replaced, leaving their family to suffer the consequences.

And the circle of destruction, misery and death doesn’t end there. All too frequently, wildlife law-enforcement rangers, who may also be poorly paid and badly equipped, lose their lives or suffer life-changing injuries. More than 1,000 wildlife rangers have been killed in the line of duty over the past decade – yet more victims, along with their families, of the wildlife poaching crisis.

Lion body parts, while less valuable than rhino horns, are increasingly being targeted by poachers. South Africa legally exports hundreds of lion skeletons and large quantities of bones each year to Asia, where they are in demand as a substitute for traditional tiger bone in medicines, tonics, wines and other products. While the export of bones from wild lions is now illegal under international law, South Africa declared an export quota of 800 skeletons from captive-bred lions last year. This legal trade not only symbolises what some regard as the country’s cynical and exploitative captive predator breeding industry, it also stimulates international demand for lion bones and gives traffickers a mechanism by which to launder illegal bones from wild lions into the legal trade. With as few as 20,000 individuals remaining across Africa, lions simply cannot afford to be targets for poachers and wildlife traffickers.

The solutions to these problems ultimately lie in improving law enforcement to protect wild animals from trade, reducing demand for wildlife products through trade bans and public education programmes, and providing alternative livelihoods for impoverished people who might otherwise be tempted by the money on offer from wildlife traffickers.

As is so often the case, the poaching and trafficking of wildlife is, in many respects, closely related to poverty. Until this is addressed, wild animals, rangers, wildlife officers and their families – and, yes, poachers and their families, will continue to be victims.

Blogging off


Born Free Beyond the Bars Speech

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

Will Travers Beyond the bars speech

Born Free recently held our Gala Dinner, Beyond the Bars in London. For those of you who couldn’t attend, here is a transcript of the speech Will gave that night (We’d love to here your comments. Ed).

“Welcome to Beyond the Bars – so many friends old and new, thank you all for coming.

Before I start I want to tell you some news. Two years ago at our centre in Ethiopia we rescued a tawny eagle. She couldn’t fly. With the help of one of our supporters here tonight, Dr Pepper, and others, we built a flight aviary. Every day that eagle, Karria, which means Pepper in Amharic, has been practising and growing stronger. Last week we took one of the walls down and today, exactly today, Karria, flew to freedom.

Last night I flew back from Geneva where the Born Free international trade team, including our colleagues from Born Free USA, are enduring another round of meetings is debating the future of threatened species – cheetah, whales, rhino, parrots, great apes, lions.

Other colleagues have recently returned from key field projects, in Ethiopia – where we have been helping protect the Ethiopian Wolf – in Cameroon where wild chimpanzees and elephants and many other species are under threat. In Kenya, the Born Free Kenya Team is focussed, as you know on reducing persecution pressure on wild lions and stepping up efforts to protect them in their heartlands. Members of the Born Free team will soon be heading for India where tigers still stand on the brink. And yet others are working hard in Sri Lanka where, despite a high density human population, wild elephants number more than 5,000.

These are all examples of the way that Born Free reaches beyond the bars, imagines and delivers the world we wish to see, a vision that has sustained us for nearly 34 years.

But, for a moment, I want to take you back to the very beginning.

The death of an individual, solitary, female, wild-caught elephant at the London Zoo. That was the start of our organisation… your organisation.

The destruction of Pole Pole, one animal, the last African elephant in the zoo, like the story of Elsa, touched the hearts of millions. It caused people to pause for a moment and think about what a lifetime in captivity means.

As visitors to zoos, our experience – good or bad – is influence by the knowledge that, at the end of the day – literally – we can leave and go home, to the cinema, to see friends and family. We are free, at least to some extent, to choose how we live our lives.

Almost without exception, the inmates in the zoo, or circus, or aquarium never leave. They must live their lives of profound compromise every day.

That sense of despair and hopelessness is what energised us in those early days and what energises us today. It’s what so outraged my father that he spent much of the last 3 years of his life travelling Europe, filming, witnessing, exposing what life for inmates in some of Europe’s 3,500 zoos was really like.

And, as always, however big the zoo, however complex the story, it always came back to the individual – for, like us, each animal is unique and precious and special. Each one deserves not just to be a statistic or a number but a creature with character and personality – an individual that demands our consideration.

Some people say that animals cannot feel in the same way that we do.

But the more we study and research and observe, the more we know that they do – whether it’s Jane Goodall and chimpanzees, Ian Redmond and gorillas, Paul Spong and orca, Claudio Sillero and Ethiopian wolves, Cynthia Moss and elephants, Roger Mugford with our cats and dogs… we know that the animals we care for and care about have feelings akin to ours, that they suffer and grieve and rejoice and, yes, maybe even love.

And if that is that case then it is our moral responsibility to make sure that they do not suffer at our hand unnecessarily and that they are accorded a life worth living.

I will conclude with the brief story of just one animal:

Kimba…. an elderly lioness held by a private individual in Italy.

Close your eyes and you can almost imagine the scene.

Twenty years ago – Kimba was one of the first lions we ever rescued. Her back was bent, her joints swollen. John, our vet, said it was touch and go. She had lived in her 3 metre by 3 metre cage for her entire life. Her owner, unable to get in and clean her prison, tossed her packs of food, still wrapped in plastic. When we found her, she was standing atop a one metre pile of waste, plastic and excrement.

We could have put her down but we decided to give her a chance.

She came to the centre we then operated in Kent where the Born Free Team gently placed her into a heated house on a bed of straw. Good food, clean water. She must have wondered what had happened.

A few days later she stepped out onto grass, perhaps for the first time in her life. The sun shone. She seemed inquisitive, mesmerised, relaxed.

But her movements were slow, lethargic, stilted.

She went inside – and did not come out again.

A few short weeks after her rescue, Kimba died. Her body was riddled with cancer.

Was it worth it? All that effort for a few short weeks of love and affection and respect?

Absolutely it was. It confirmed our bond of trust, our pledge of compassion, our profound and abiding belief in the importance of the individual. Who would not swap years of life in the dark for a few precious moments bathed in sunlight?

Our brief encounter with Kimba came just a decade after we produced our book of collected essays – Beyond The Bars. To celebrate that milestone we have re-published the original book full extraordinary contributions by a range of contributors including Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, Richard Adams, Bill Jordan, Spike Milligan, Arjan Singh, Mary Midgely, Hugo van Lawick and my late father, together with a new chapter by Born Free’s Head of Welfare and Care, Chris Draper and a new Foreword by Virginia.

Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, there is one copy for each and every one of you tonight – something to inform and inspire.

Changing the way the world looks at and treats wild animals takes time. We have been working on it for more than three decades and I believe real progress has been made. But it will take more than a lifetime, my lifetime, the key is to be consistent, committed and compassionate. Those are the values that underpin Born Free and everything we do – from day one, in a room in Chelsea when I was just 24 years old – to today when Born Free has become – with all your support – the voice for the voiceless, an animal champion to be reckoned with, the organisation at the forefront of a movement for change.

We have always looked beyond the bars – and we always will!”

The Beyond the Bars book will be available on our webshop soon.

TROPHY – A New Wildlife Shockumentary. Look Away Now

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

Trophy, a new feature length wildlife ‘shockumentary’ by Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau, is a film of two storylines.

The first focusses on trophy hunting in Africa and follows a man with a weak grasp on reality, Philip Glass, on his quest to shoot the Big Five (rhino, elephant, lion, leopard and buffalo). Philip is hell-bent on his mission and will go to extraordinary lengths to succeed, including shooting 17 wild animals as ‘bait’ to lure a magnificent lion to within yards of his high-powered rifle.

Weeping over its corpse, Mr Glass seeks absolution and approval from the spirit of his dead father – a challenging man by his own admission.

He also lays it on the line by stating that anyone who believes in evolution is a fool, and that (gun by his side) ‘no bureaucrat is going to take away his trophy’.

The film is peppered with assumptions and assertions about trophy hunting that are offered in an almost ‘fact-free’ environment. We are told (by a representative of America’s premier hunting organisation, Safari Club International) that “all the money (from trophy hunting) will go back into conservation” with no evidence to back it up. Also that belief in the medical value of rhino horn “has been around for millions of years”. Neither is true.

Trophy hunting, as portrayed in the film, will do little to foster informed debate but those who admire the killing of wild animals for ‘fun’ will probably support it, the many implacably opposed (like me) will reject it, and people who may have their doubts will most likely be disgusted by the brutal eye-witness shooting of an elephant, a hippo, numerous antelope, a lion and, perhaps most distressingly of all, a crocodile, trapped in a pond and blown away by a beer-swilling, foul-mouthed lout, egged on by his ‘I want crocodile skin shoes and a belt’ partner.

My conclusion: Trophy Hunting is controversial, sickening and offensive to anyone with a heart.

The second aspect of the film was downright dangerous. It presented with almost no counter-argument, the conservation ‘recipe’ of South African, John Hume, the most successful private rhino breeder on the planet, with 1530 rhino to his name.

Mr Hume’s recipe is to breed rhino, cut off their horns and sell them – currently legal in South Africa but prohibited internationally. It is put forward by the film’s makers with almost no risk analysis, no alternative vision and no understanding of what would happen to the world’s 30,000 remaining wild rhino if his dream came true.

It is a recipe for disaster, cooked up by some well-known pseudo-economists in South Africa who have, it seems, little or no understanding of economics and what will happen if you create a legal market for rhino horn and peddle it to hundreds of millions of potential customers in the Far East.

They and Mr Hume seem oblivious to the lessons of history. In 2008 the international community, despite the desperate pleas of Born Free and others, approved a ‘one-off’ sale of more than 100 tonnes of ivory from South Africa and several other countries to Japan and China. Far from ‘satisfying consumer demand’, as the architects of this sale hoped, it fueled a dramatic and deadly explosion in poaching and illegal ivory trade. Between 2009 and 2014, Tanzania, an African elephant stronghold, lost an average of 1,000 elephants a month, every month, for five years. That’s 60,000 Elephants.

The poaching epidemic continues to this day with 20,000 Elephants poached each year, tons of ivory being seized, and wildlife rangers and wardens – the elephants’ first line of defense – losing their lives. More than 1,000 have been murdered in the last 10 years.

And yet, Mr Hume is convinced and, in the absence of proper analysis and a counter-perspective, convincing. He’s just an old guy who wants to save his rhino right? Wrong!

So where does that leave us?

With a film called Trophy that can’t make up its mind whether it’s about trophy hunting or rhino horn trade.

With a film that has ambitions to be the next Blackfish – it is not.

With a film that seeks to stimulate debate by both sides – it can’t (because grown-up debate requires facts).

With a film that says it wants to bring people together to find solutions – it doesn’t.

Trophy is, in my view, opinionated, dangerous, difficult and naive.

Those who have helped fund its making, including the BBC, need to look carefully at their own internal rules. The viewing public should treat it as a toxic substance. It is not informative. It is not balanced. And it should not be relied upon.

As for Mr Schwarz and Ms Clusiau, the old adage appears to ring true. ‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing’. Trophy, for all the hype, has done little to make things any clearer. They ask members of the public to join the conversation but then shut down real debate. Schwarz openly admits that he supports Mr Hume’s ‘recipe’.

I believe this film will be used by the South African government to push for legalization of rhino horn trade at CITES, the global wildlife trade conference to be held in Sri Lanka in 2019. If that proposal is approved then I predict an apocalyptic future for rhino and poaching rates we can only imagine.

Maybe wild rhino will soon be gone. Maybe the only survivors will belong to Mr Hume. If so, Trophy will be partly to blame.

Will Travers
President Born Free Foundation.

Howard Jones, CEO Born Free Foundation, added:

“I have serious concerns as to the motives of this film.  One could take the view that the confused narrative, absence of facts, unchallenged dogma, forgotten threads, add up merely to bad film-making.  But the stakes are too high for that – the aggression and motivation of the director too stark; Mr Schwarz knows what he is doing.

This mis-named film is actually about Mr Hume and a business into which he has sunk over £50m.  It is about messing with resource-economics, unmeasurable demand and intended consequences.  A number of people stand to get very rich indeed, if this film is allowed to slip by whilst we all miss the true purpose – duped into thinking that it is all about weird American hunters and Southern African thugs.  We cannot let that happen – we must call it out for what it is.”

Shocking Trophy Hunting Channel Launched

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

Just a week or so after the shocking news story about Xanda, (a male lion with dependent cubs)and one of Cecil the lion’s adult sons, being shot as a trophy in Zimbabwe, it seems the whole issue of trophy hunting is firmly back on the international radar with news of the launch of a new Sport Hunting Channel.

Here’s my reaction:

“It won’t only be Arsenal supporters (like me) who will be outraged by My Outdoor TV (MOTV), launched recently in the UK by billionaire Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke.

Anyone who has a beating heart will be sickened by images of grown men and women celebrating the killing of wild lions and other iconic species for ‘fun’.

Let’s be clear:

Trophy hunting isn’t poaching – the illegal killing of animals, such as elephants for their ivory.

Trophy hunting isn’t subsistence hunting by people surviving from day to day on the animals they hunt to food.

Trophy hunting isn’t even the hunting of animals to control their populations, such as deer in many European countries, where natural predators have long been eradicated.

Whatever trophy hunters may say – that it’s about being in the great outdoors; that these are problem animals that need controlling; that it’s all about the hunt, not the actual killing – trophy hunters do exactly what it says on the tin. They hunt for trophies so they can put the head of their victim on the wall and brag about their bravery to their buddies – as if killing a wild animal with a high-powered rifle or bow from a hundred feet away or more was some kind of badge of courage!

‘All dangerous game safaris are exciting and challenging hunts and yes, a thrill of a lifetime!’ That’s what it is really all about for trophy hunters.

Football is called ‘the beautiful game’ but, Mr Kroenke, one of its wealthiest supporters, may be contributing to the end of our beautiful ‘game’ – the wild animals that still cling to existence across an increasingly human-dominated world.

And now, Mr Kroenke’s trophy hunting channel will  permit some people to share the ‘thrill of a lifetime’ by watching others kill for ‘fun’.  It is the equivalent of a legal ‘snuff movie’. I say enough is enough. We can and must protect wildlife and wild places without killing and it’s time for the majority to speak out. Born Free has been, and always will be, against trophy hunting, and for Compassionate Conservation. Join us.”

Will Travers OBE

President The Born Free Foundation

Please note: this blog has been superseded by the latest news on Friday, 4th August here.

Tiger Questions

Saturday, July 29th, 2017

How many tigers are left in the wild? And what about in 5 years’ time? Or when my 6 year-old child has grandchildren? Fundamentally, these questions are unanswerable. Tigers are solitary creatures, disliking disturbance of any kind and moving silently through their forests, often coming close to people without our knowledge. We can gather and assess information about their presence in a given area, and estimate numbers, but these figures will never be a comprehensive assessment of all tiger populations, and may not be comparable from one country to another or even from one year to another.

Estimating tiger numbers is a worthy pursuit, but it can give us a false impression, resulting in a sense of complacency if numbers appear to be increasing. Just as importantly, it can distract us from the more important questions we should be asking.

A couple of years ago, I attended a meeting in India which brought together high-level government officials from tiger range countries, as well as organisations and individuals focussed on saving tigers. A figure which appeared to indicate an increase in the global tiger population had been bandied about to much fanfare in a press release issued just a day before the meeting began. On the morning of the first day, the delegates got busy working their way through the agenda, and at one point I found myself in a room with some eminent scientists and tiger conservationists discussing tiger reintroductions. But there was an elephant in the room and, at one point between presentations, one of those in the audience decided to address it, making the following powerful observation: that it mattered less how many tigers we counted at any given point, and much more how many of them we could actually protect from unchecked development, habitat degradation, conflict with people and of course poaching gangs which feed the demand for parts and products many miles away from where tigers live.

There is nothing inconclusive or vague about the reality of these threats, nor of their impact on tiger populations across Asia. So, if we want a future with tigers, we have to ask ourselves some critically important questions which have a direct bearing on protecting what tigers we have, and securing a future for ourselves which includes these iconic animals.

First of all, how many tigers do we want, and linked to that, how far down the road to achieving that objective are we as a global community?

How can we drastically reduce the threats tigers face, and what are the key practical and proven solutions which can be rolled out in a coordinated way in and around tiger habitat?

What are the main roadblocks which are preventing tiger populations from growing, and how should we overcome or work around them?

Are there enough wild places which are undisturbed, adequately protected and contain all a tiger needs to not only survive but thrive? Has our approach to date worked? Are there other or better ways?

How far are we prepared to go to ensure a world with more tigers? What value are we prepared to place on them? Is everyone, including donors, local communities, and politicians, prepared for the implications of having more tigers?

Is the global community going to rally together and demand an end to captive tiger breeding in East and Southeast Asia (tiger “farming”), which stimulates demand for tiger skin, claws, teeth and tiger bone wine from both captive-bred and wild tigers?

These and more are the questions we need to pose and answer, now and every day in the future – not just when Global Tiger Day rolls around.

Gabriel Fava, Born Free’s Associate Director, Asia and Oceana

Virginia McKenna remembers her friend Roger Moore

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

Roger Moore and Virginia in "I Capture the Castle"

“I have been thinking about the date, May 23rd 2017. The news of the Manchester bomb attack and the death of a loved and famous actor revealed to us on the same day.

As a parent, I can only imagine the horror being endured by those who have lost loved ones or whose beautiful children have been brutally injured by the disgusting and cowardly attack at the Ariana Grande concert. We all weep as one and we all share a determination to resist those who seek to force us to be other than the caring, compassionate, inclusive society we cherish.

The death of Roger Moore has been a shock and is another great sadness. I knew he was ill, but – nevertheless. I understand well what his family are going through and, of course, I feel for them very much.

My personal memories are perhaps different from what we are reading and seeing on television. They go back to 1954. Bill and I together with Roger were in a theatre production of “I Capture the Castle” in London (pictured). Roger played the part of Stephen Colly and we all thought he was gorgeous and charming. So did Hollywood, as he was whisked off there, before the play ended, and signed a contract with MGM.

But, in spite of fame and fortune, Roger had a deep current of compassion flowing through his veins. Compassion for humans, expressed through his long-term work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador (since 1991) – he was awarded the UNICEF Audrey Hepburn Award in 2004. And compassion for animals, where he held some very strong and critical views on animal exploitation and cruelty. Trophy hunting, the use of wild animals in circuses, the relentlessly cruelty involved in the production of foie gras (his work significantly contributed to Selfridges ending foie gras sales in November 2009).

For many years we exchanged emails on these issues. He was deeply shocked that anyone could hurt or hunt a wild creature for “fun”, sport, or a trophy.

When it came to wild animals in circuses, I know he had reserved a very special bottle of champagne to take to Downing Street to present to Teresa May if – no, WHEN – she (or whoever the Prime Minister of the day was at the time) finally ended this archaic and cruel relic of the past. We agreed to knock on her door together.

As a tribute to his memory, I once more ask Mrs May to do just that. I am aware that many issues are on her desk at the moment, but the job is done, the legislation is written, the support is overwhelmingly there. It shouldn’t take much precious Parliamentary time Prime Minister.

Surely the animals deserve that and dear much-missed Roger can rest in peace.”

Virginia McKenna OBE
Founder and Trustee, Born Free Foundation

General Election – Animals don’t have a vote but they need a strong voice

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

Dear Friends of Wildlife

It hardly seems five minutes since the last time, but once again we find ourselves in the midst of UK General Election fever.

However, things are substantially different this time round. The referendum result almost a year ago changed everything. Brexit is dominating the headlines, threatening to drown out discussion of the NHS, social care, education, jobs, security and the domestic economy.

Wildlife protection hardly seems to be getting a look-in. But the election could profoundly impact the UK’s future policies on nature conservation, environmental management and animal welfare, in no small part because many of our current rules relating to nature and wildlife come from Brussels.

Prospective parliamentary candidates mustn’t be allowed to forget how important wildlife protection is to the vast majority of their prospective constituents. Our next government will be negotiating our exit from the European Union and deciding which European Directives and Regulations we should keep, and which we should throw out. The Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies, Europe’s nature directives, wildlife trade regulations, and many other pieces of European legislation, will no longer directly apply to the UK, and the consequences for our wildlife could be profound.

But Brexit also offers the UK an opportunity.

We like to pride ourselves as being a nation of animal lovers, and a country that leads the world on nature protection and environmental issues.

Now is the time for prospective parliamentary candidates from across the political spectrum to pledge their support for a Britain that not only accepts the need to maintain European safeguards for wildlife, but will set an example to the world by going above and beyond our current protections and put in place progressive policies aimed at halting and reversing wildlife declines and improving animal welfare.

To this end, my colleagues at Born Free and I have put together a set of election priorities for wildlife, which we are calling on all candidates and Parties to endorse. These include maintaining and improving on current EU regulations concerning nature and animal protection as we prepare to leave the EU; adopting a leading role in international efforts to tackle wildlife trafficking starting, with a UK ivory trade ban; improving protections for both native and captive wildlife against all forms of exploitation and abuse; and introducing nature education into the National Curriculum for all children.

It’s not for us as a charity to advocate or support any particular political party. But we are asking people who care about wild animals, captive or free-living, to demand that their prospective parliamentary candidates prioritise the protection of wildlife in their campaigns, and ensure these issues are given the highest priority if they are elected to Parliament.

Whatever the colour of the new Government on June 9th, we will continue to push for the highest level of protection for our wildlife, and the highest standards of welfare for all animals.

As Mahatma Ghandi rightly said “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Never was this statement more relevant.

Blogging off


Home in Africa

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

The week of May the 1st 2017 was an incredibly exciting week for Born Free as we helped give two needy wild animals a second chance of a life worth living.  I have asked my friend and colleague, Beth Brooks, to tell the story in the Guest Blog.



Ciam at Shamwari

“With his head held high, Ciam the lion stood in the middle of his vast enclosure, surrounded by the vivid greens and browns of the African bush. Proud, elegant and taking in the sights, smells and sounds of South Africa, Ciam was home.

Just moments before, Virginia McKenna had opened the gate of Ciam’s night quarters at Born Free’s Jean Byrd Centre at Shamwari, South Africa.

Ciam had spent the first seven months of his life as an ‘exotic pet’ in a cramped cage. This was followed by 18 months at Belgian wildlife sanctuary Natuurhulpcentrum (NHC), so no one knew how he would react to so much space. But he immediately began to explore his new home.

This incredible moment was the culmination of a 32-hour, 10,000km journey by road and air from Belgium to South Africa to rehome Ciam, and 17-year-old former zoo lion Nelson. I was honoured to be a member of the Born Free rehoming team which included colleagues from Shamwari and NHC.

That same morning, Nelson had been introduced to his new home at Born Free’s Julie Ward Animal Rescue and Education Centre. Nelson was rescued from a French zoo and had also been living at NHC, but wasn’t as keen to embrace change as Ciam. With a little encouragement, Nelson left his night quarters for a brief stroll around his new home, but headed back in soon afterwards. Over the next couple of days his visits to his main enclosure started getting longer, and we are confident he will soon be fully settled at Shamwari.

The different reactions of Ciam and Nelson to their new homes highlighted for me why Born Free’s Compassion Conservation philosophy is so important. Born Free has not just given two lions a new forever home – Born Free has given two individuals a new life. Two lions with completely different personalities who have had to endure hardship and deprivation. Gentle and playful Ciam took the long journey and the introduction to his new home in his stride. But the much older Nelson – having spent 17 years in a zoo – will certainly take longer to adjust. Every animal truly is different.

Ciam and Nelson can never be released fully back into the wild, but at Shamwari – and with the wonderful Born Free team there – they will receive the best care possible. Care that will hopefully erase memories of the suffering they have been forced to endure for the sake of human entertainment.

Together they highlight the plight of the millions of captive wild animals around the world – kept in zoos, circuses or as exotic pets. Individually, they show that every single animal deserves a life worth living.

It was quite an experience for them – and it was quite an experience for me. One I shall never forget.


Press Officer Born Free Foundation

You can help us with future Big Cat Rescues with a donation

Rethinking Animals Summit 2017

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

Dear FriendsNew York

I was recently asked to speak at an amazing event held in New York City, by the incredible Bonnie Wyper and the Thinking Animals United team, and supported by the Arcus Foundation.

The meeting covered an extraordinary range of issues including ‘The Threat to Human Health’; ‘The Threat to Global Security’; ‘The Threat to the World Economy’; ‘The Threat to Environmental Sustainability’; ‘Business for Sustainable Solutions’; ‘Biodesigning Our Future’; and ‘Tapping the Global Citizen’.

Speakers included Dr Paula Kahumbu (Wildlife Direct), Carter and Olivia Ries (One More Generation), Ayshar Akhtar, Crawford Allen (TRAFFIC), Philip Lymbery (Compassion in World farming), Mary Rice (Environmental Investigation Agency), Jeremy Coller (Coller Capital), Jane Lawton (The B-Team), Mike Korchinsky (Wildlife Works), Philip Ross (Mycoworks), Stephan Bognar, James Deutsch (Vulcan Philanthropy), and Annette Lanjouw (The Arcus Foundation).

I was honoured to join a panel moderated by the visionary Steven M Wise, President of the Non-Human Rights Project, to discuss ‘The Threat to Our Happiness’ together with the Reverend Fletcher harper and Beth Allgood from IFAW.

It was all totally fascinating and, I understand, the proceedings were filmed and will be made available in the future. In the meantime, if you are interested, you can download an extended version of my speech here.

Blogging off!


PS Make yourself happy by reading about the lions Nelson and Ciam, and their journey home to Africa

Elephant Down!

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

Born Free Kenya, the Kenya Wildlife Service, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and Elsa’s Kopje Lodge to the rescue!

They say a picture tells a thousand words, so here is a short video of a dramatic and amazing incident that happened during my recent trip to Meru National Park in Northern Kenya.

Lodge Manager, George, had witnessed an elephant with a grapefruit-size injury which was weeping pus on the left-hand side of his belly, near the hind-leg.  George asked whether we could help and, of course, I said yes – but how to find one elephant in over 800 sq kms?

The following morning at 6 am we set off, criss-crossing the Park to try and look for the injured animal.  By 11.30 am, we had come up with nothing.  However, just as we got back to the Lodge to take a short break, George pointed to a solitary young male elephant visible through binoculars from the Lodge itself.  We rushed down to see whether he was our candidate.  He was, so together with Tim Oloo, Born Free’s Country Manager, we sat in our vehicle observing him while the KWS vet, Dr Rono, supported by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, was alerted and drove to the scene along with members of the Born Free Kenya team.  It was not easy.  After several hours, the elephant started to move off and ended up in a very rocky and inaccessible area where vehicles could not go.

Thinking that he may be following a watercourse, we drove around to the next track and within half an hour, lo and behold, ‘our elephant’ crossed the track and headed up to a flat and open area to the left.  Victor, our Born Free Project Manager, and Dr Rono followed, leaving us to wait for a radio signal to join them when it was appropriate.  The minutes seemed to drag.  There was no news.  Suddenly the radio sprang into life and Victor urgently called us in to help make sure that other elephants in the area did not come to the aid of their now prostrate companion.  We were with him in just ten minutes.

It turned out that the grapefruit-sized lump on his side was only the tip of a putrid iceberg.  Inside the body cavity, the wound was seemingly five or six times as large and with literally litres of putrid material and pus.  Dr Rono expertly flushed the system out making a small incision about six inches below the main wound so that it could drain properly.  Then the heavily-sedated elephant was given antibiotics and other medication before he administered the reversal injection.

We all retreated to the relative safety of our vehicles to see what would happen next.  Within 60 seconds the elephant was up, seemingly bemused and really cross!  He charged away up the hill before turning to the nearest innocent bush and giving it a thorough beating.  Then, with a further series of outraged trumpets, he disappeared into the distance, just as light was fading.

The film is here.  It is a story of compassion and, I hope, success.  I have asked the Born Free team on the ground to report back to confirm that the elephant is well and is making a good recovery.  Dr Rono suggested that he would take a further look and gave the elephant a 70% chance of survival.  I hope he is right.  But one thing is for sure, if KWS, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Elsa’s Kopje Lodge and Born Free Kenya had not stepped in, he would almost certainly be dead.

Blogging off.